Peace Corps Celebrated in Style at The Promise of the Peace Corps Gala
By Erica Burman on Thursday, October 20th, 2011
50 years. That’s a big milestone. So in addition to a year of exhibits and Expos and symposia and fora and lectures and reports, it was important that we not leave out a very important part of the Peace Corps legacy: Fun.
And that’s what was had at The Promise of the Peace Corps Gala, on the evening of September 24, 2011. Over 800 people streamed into the dramatically decorated atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building to celebrate the Peace Corps in style. And we mean style! Men and women both took the opportunity to add host country flourishes to their formal wear. Embroidered sashes and cummerbunds. Beads. Exotic hats. Rich fabrics. There was even a gentleman in a kilt.
Not surprisingly, master of ceremonies Chris Matthews (Swaziland 68-70) did a rousing job of welcoming the assembled guests and hosting the program, sprinkling in anecdotes from his own Peace Corps service. NPCA President Kevin Quigley recapped some of the highlights of the anniversary year, and screened the winning video in the My Piece of the Corps contest. Special Olympics CEO Timothy Shriver presented the Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service to this year’s winner, Sam Goldman (Benin 01-05) and later in the evening Sen. Harris Wofford presented a new award – the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award — to Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President of Nigeria, business leader and university founder. Also recognized were Becky Straw, winner of $5,000 NPCA / Seven Fund essay contest prize, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) Andrew Dykens and Tom Robinson, who shared the Global Community Project prize.
During dinner the tables buzzed. My table happened to be comprised of Tanzania RPCVs, several of whom were visiting from out of town, and although they all served at different times and at different sites, conversation flowed easily.
But all quieted when singer-songwriter Chrystal Bowersox took to the stage. At the start of the evening some in the audience might not have been familiar with her career, but by the end of her five song set, Crystal had won over many new fans. And clearly she had done her homework for this Peace Corps crowd, opening with “Stop, Hey, What’s that Sound,” tearing through a rocking rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee” and closing with her own song, “Home is a Place” set to a montage of Peace Corps images.
The Gala was a marvelous evening, a fun and festive highpoint to the 50th anniversary year. So “happening” in fact, that it even warranted a photo spread in the Sunday Washington Post Style section!
Photos from The Gala are available for purchase!
I’ll close with a reflection by my predecessor at the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), David Arnold (Ethiopia 62-64):
It’s the risk you take when you decide to celebrate 50 years of something: lots of the folks around you have the same white hair you do. I am convinced that Courtney and I were in one of the Washington Post photos, but all pewter heads are beginning to look alike to me.
So I was grateful for the fact that some of those who ponied up for the party had honest hair that didn’t shine like the North Star on a moonless night in August. Like Sam Goldman, who received the Shriver award. He had non-white hair and what’s more, he wore a cool suit and had very, very hip glasses. And what an incredible notion to build a light that shines beyond the power grid and to create a business plan that will put that light in the hands of millions of young rural kids who have homework to do each night.
The former volunteers who go out and explore the world with that kind of savvy and compassion have always been my favorite part of what the NPCA does. They honor individuals who didn’t end the experience with Peace Corps. The rest of us hold dearly to those passing memories of the great adventure, and some of us wonder why we came home to pick up where we left off. At least we can brag about those women and men who keep exploring: Stuart Conway, Molly Melching, Jaime Mitchell, the Hellinger brothers, Tim Carroll, Julia DiMichelis, to name a few.
Thank you to all who have received that award and all of those who have been nominated and should have won.